A quick brine makes this chicken caprese sandwich super moist. Roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and a pesto aioli are layered over chicken stuffed into toasted ciabatta.
Super quick story and then I promise I’ll get to the recipe. When my kids were little and I’d take them back-to-school shopping, we’d always celebrate with a visit to the Nordstrom café. And waiting for us was a Chicken Caprese Sandwich and a cup of their cozy tomato soup. What follows is my riff on Nordstrom’s chicken sandwich. Pair it with my Tomato Bisque for the perfect cold weather lunch with some girlfriends, post-shopping expedition, of course.
The Key to a Juicy Grilled Chicken Breast
One word: brine.
If the word“brine" conjures up scary thoughts of a huge turkey in a cooler swimming in seasoned water, let me put your mind at ease. Brined grilled chicken breasts will always be juicy and flavorful.
And it only takes two ingredients.
Salt and water.
What kind of salt for brining?
The best kind of salt for brining is kosher salt. You can of course use table salt or sea salt but make sure to check the size of the crystals. Bon Appetit offers more info on the differences between types of salt. For this recipe, now is not the time to bring out your expensive, flaky Maldon sea salt. Save that for putting in a cute little container on your table for sprinkling over my Italian Arugula Salad (which is sooo good on top of this sandwich).
How to brine
A brine should be cold as you don't want to cook or poach the chicken. A good brine ratio is:
2 cups of cold water : 2 tablespoons of salt
- Stir the brine until all the salt is dissolved.
- Place your trimmed chicken breasts in the brine.
- Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- After the allotted time, remove the chicken breasts and rinse them.
- Pat dry the chicken breasts with paper towels before seasoning with salt and roasted garlic powder.
- Keep an eye on the time. You don’t want to over-brine chicken breasts or it will turn mushy.
Classic Caprese Flavors
Caprese is thought to have originated in Capri and if you’re like me, you’re grateful every summer when basil and tomatoes are at their best. Caprese is three layers:
- Fresh mozzarella (preferably)
But what’s a girl to do when you have a hankering for a good caprese salad or sandwich in the winter?
Chill out. And get roasting.
Most any mediocre tomato can be cajoled into sweet flavor by using a little heat. Slow roasting tomatoes is a technique that transforms a mealy tomato into a flavor-bomb.
Tomato Roasting Tips
You can use any kind of tomato you have on hand. Roma, cherry, grape, heirloom. If they’re already in small bites like a cherry or grape, leave them as is. If you’re using a larger tomato, thickly slice them.
Drizzle them with olive oil and season with kosher salt.
The key is using low heat and roasting them sloooowly. Like 300 for two hours. Roast them on Sunday and you’ll have them all week for sandwiches, puree into soup or use in tomato sauce.
Make the pesto aioli
Aioli is traditionally a blend of lemon, oil, garlic, mustard, and egg but we’re making a cheater aioli. Start with mayo and some Greek yogurt, add a big dollop of store-bought pesto (which also has garlic and the oil) and finish it all off with a squeeze of lemon. Easy!
p.s. my favorite store-bought pesto is from Costco. You can’t beat the price or the flavor.
Grilled Chicken 411
- Heat a gas or charcoal grill to approximately 400 degrees (or when coals are ash white).
- Season the chicken breasts with a little pepper and garlic powder (you don’t really need more salt at this point because of the brine).
- Grill the chicken breasts for approximately 4 minutes on each side or until an internal temperature of 165° is reached (use a reliable meat thermometer – no guessing!)
Assemble the Caprese Sandwich
Drizzle a little olive oil on the inside of the split ciabatta bun. Place on the grill during the last minute of grilling. (Or turn off the grill completely and toast the buns for a couple of minutes)
Spread the aioli on each side of the grilled bread.
On the top half of the bun, layer on:
- slow roasted tomatoes.
- fresh mozzarella slices
- finish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze
For a crew: Slice the chicken thinly and use small crostini to make open faced versions of this sandwich. Top with a dollop or using a pastry bag, a rosette of aioli for a pretty party appetizer.
For a few: The best thing about this grilled chicken sandwich is you can make it for as many people as you’re serving. For a single serving: use 1 Roma tomato per person, ½ heirloom or 5 cherry tomatoes.
Chicken Caprese Sandwich
For the Chicken
- 4 cups cold tap water
- 4 Tablespoons kosher or table salt
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder, I use roasted garlic powder but not necessary
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
For the Pesto Aioli
- 1 Tablespoon mayonnaise, light ok
- 2 Tablespoons Greek yogurt
- 2 Tablespoons premade pesto, I use Costco's pesto. Adjust to your taste.
- juice from ¼ of a lemon
For the Roasted Tomatoes
- 4 Roma tomatoes, cored, sliced into 4 slices * [see note]
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- salt/black pepper
Toppings and Bun
- 4 ciabatta buns, sliced in half and lightly toasted
- ½ lb fresh mozzarella , sliced
- 4 oz. arugula, washed and dried
- balsamic glaze, see Notes
For the chicken
- In a large bowl, add salt to the cold water and stir until the salt is dissolved, about 2 minutes.
- Add the chicken breasts. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, remove the chicken and rinse under cold water. Pat completely dry.
- Season both sides of the chicken with ground black pepper and garlic powder.
Make the aioli
- While the chicken is brining, combine the mayonnaise, pesto and lemon in a small bowl and set aside. Taste for seasoning. Add a little salt, if needed. Cover and refrigerate.
Grill the Chicken
- Heat a gas grill to 400°. LIghtly oil the grates using an olive oil dipped paper towel.
- Place the chicken on the grill and cook for approximately 4 minutes on each side until a meat thermometer registers 165°.
- Drizzle some oil on the insides of the split ciabatta rolls. Grill cut side down during the last minute or so of the chicken cooking over indirect heat or an upper level of your grill if you have one. You can also turn off the grill to toast the bread after the chicken has finished cooking.
To slow roast the tomatoes
- Preheat the oven to 300°
- Place the sliced tomatoes on a baking sheet. Don't crowd the tomatoes.
- Drizzle with olive oil and a healthy sprinkle of salt and black pepper.
- Roast for approximately 2 hours until the tomatoes are rich in color and smell.
Assemble the sandwich
- Place 1-2 tablespoons of aioli on both sides of a ciabatta roll.
- Top with the grilled chicken followed by the fresh mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, a sprinkling of arugula and a drizzle of balsamic glaze.
- Close up the sandwich. Slice in half and serve.
- If your chicken breasts are really thick, they'll take longer to cook. Feel free to pound them thinner with a rolling pin or meat tenderizer and cut them in half to fit on your roll easier.
- as an alternative, you can use jarred sun dried tomatoes
- For a single serving: use 1 Roma tomato per person, ½ heirloom or 5 cherry tomatoes.